Mmmm,Tasso!

 

 

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If you’ve never had Tasso ham before, it probably means that you don’t live anywhere near the south. Before visiting New Orleans and moving to Texas, I had only heard about it in Emeril recipes, always to be followed by the obligatory asterisk – “*if Tasso is unavailable, substitute with bacon or ham”. I suppose it’s a little true – if Tasso is totally unavailable, bacon is better than nothing – but I surely wouldn’t call it a substitute. Tasso is it’s own beautiful, wonderful, glorious beast that allows no substitution.

It is important to note that while it’s called “Tasso Ham”, it is not actually “ham”. Ham is made from the hind leg of the pig, while Tasso is traditionally made from the shoulder. As many of the best southern traditions have been, it was created out of necessity – a way to use up the left over scraps of the least used cut of the whole pig.

A good way to get a better perspective on how any traditional dish is supposed to be made is to think about that – how it started, where it came from. Then, grab Michael Ruhlman’s “Charcuterie” as a great reference and read as many additional recipes as possible. Everyone does it a little bit different.

Here is my way:

First, make sure you have a large enough pan (or pans) to hold all of the meat comfortably without overlapping. Cut up the big pork butt into large, thick pieces, leaving on all the fat and cutting against the grain.

Next, give the meat a good salt cure:
2 parts kosher salt to 1 part white granulated sugar. (Enough to fully cover the meat in a thick, even coating.) Pour the salt cure as evenly as possible and massage into the pork, leaving a fairly thick coating. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.IMG_1873

Third, while the meat is curing, mix up your dry rub with the following ingredients to your preferred taste:

  • Ground white pepper
  • Ground black pepper
  • Ground cayenne pepper
  • Ground allspice
  • Ground paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried oregano

Then, after 3-4 hours refrigerated, rinse the cure off of the meat, dry with paper towel and and cover with a nice hefty coating of the dry rub; cover and refrigerate to cure overnight.

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Finally, while the shoulder is sitting in the fridge, find access to an awesome smoker.

If you don’t have access to a smoker, you can use your oven. In order to get an imitation of the rich smokey flavor that is so important, try wrapping smoking chips in tin foil and putting on the bottom of your oven, on the rack beneath the meat. Heat the oven to 220 degrees, make sure the heat is nice and steady, and put the pork in for 4 or so hours. Try your best not to open the door to look at it so you can maintain that good steady heat.

If you do have access to a smoker, I suggest using pecan chips and if you can control the heat, try to keep it at 220. Cram the meat in there with excitement and don’t open the smoker for 3 hours. IMG_1882

To check the done-ness of the pork (smoker or oven) use a meat thermometer, which should read somewhere between 150 – 180 degrees. Poke the meat a little as its finishing to see how done it is: is it solid but tender? Then it’s good to go.

Once done, here are some ideas on what to do with it:

Pizza:

  • Remoulade sauce (mayo based, heavy on the mustard)
  • Medium Cheddar cheese, grated
  • Very thinly sliced and quartered green tomatoes
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Tasso, sliced long and thin (like pastrami)

Layer pizza with all ingredients (Tasso on top) and bake at 500 on a thin crust, until crust is golden brown, about 8 minutes.

Also try it:

  • cubed in jumbalaya, gumbo or sauteed greens like spinach or chard
  • use the same pizza ingredients as a po’boy sandwich
  • use anywhere in place of normal ham for a little extra pizzazz.

Have any more great ideas? Let me know! And enjoy!

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BBQ Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy

I’ve been trying to expand these recipes to more “full meal appropriate” entries rather than small pieces of how to look fancy. In doing so, I’ve come back to my old homesteading ways. The ways of the farms in far away lands, the ways of the jam-making in Lower Haight,the ways of spending 8 hour chunks of time in the kitchen making everything from mustard and crackers to ice cream flavored with home grown fruit. Oh, those days…where have you gone? To where has all that youthful enthusiasm and energy fled? Perhaps to late nights of word scramble and Mah Jong? Perhaps to the new visual enjoyment of This American Life? (Thanks a lot, Ira Glass…) Wherever it went to, it’s on its way back for a (hopefully extended) visit, so lets go home.

Good ole fashioned meatloaf is the best way to negate the anger that is flooding all us San Franciscans just as the cold fog is flooding our Indian Summer. Now is the time for hot, heavy food – chili, roasted chicken, meatloaf – and this is the best recipe with which to welcome it back. I do, very very sincerely, beg of you – pleeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaase (on my knees) don’t use store bought barbeque sauce. Just don’t. I’m not going to lecture you on corn syrup, how it’s a disgrace to the intregity of food, how it’s bad for your body, agriculture, farmers or the economy of food. I won’t. I will just say that this barbeque sauce will taste better than any you can buy and you will feel so much better about your endeavors after a mere half hour (that’s not even a whole episode of This American Life).

Barbeque Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Mushroom Gravy MeatloafBBQ

For the BBQ Sauce

This recipe makes just about enough for the meatloaf, so depending on how much you might use in other items (perhaps a burger patty made from some left over ground beef?) you could want to double it. Another good use of this sauce is as a marinade for tofu.

      1c. canned tomatoes, or 2 heirloom tomatoes, smoked, and 1c. unseasoned tomato sauce*

 

      2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

 

      2/3c. red onion, finely chopped

 

      1/2 jalapeno, finely diced, with seeds

 

      2T brown sugar, or Mexican Piloncillo, grated

 

      1t tamarind paste**

 

      juice from 1/2 lemon

 

      1/8t curry powder

 

      1/8t smoked salt***

 

      1/4t cumin

 

      1/2t liquid smoke

 

      1/2t extra virgin olive oil

 

      1t cider vinegar

*This sauce is a great reason to shell out $40 and get a stove-top smoker from your local Sur la Table. Buuuut, if you don’t have the means to smoke the tomatoes yourself, I strongly recommend Muir Glen Organic’s Fire Roasted kind.

*If you can’t find tamarind paste (though its more widely available than you would think, just ask around – especially in the “ethnic foods” aisle, or at Asian and Mexican markets) it can be substituted with tamarind pods. Leave them whole and keep them in the sauce the entire time its cooking, then remove at the end.

***You can get smoked salt at some specialty stores (such as Rainbow Grocery here in San Francisco) or order it online. If you don’t use smoked salt, use regular sea salt and add 1/4t more liquid smoke.

1. Warm a medium sauce pan over medium heat and cook the onion, garlic and jalapeno in olive oil until just softened but not browned.
2. Add tomatoes, then slowly add sugar and tamarind paste, stirring and watching to make sure it all dissolves well.
3. Once the tamarind paste and sugar are dissolved, add everything else slowly and reduce to a simmer.
4. Simmer for half hour or until the taste is right for you.
5. Remove from heat, cool, and puree in food processor. Don’t worry when it still seems chunkier than the KC Masterpiece your un-culinarily inclined roommate fills the fridge with, that’s just because it has real tomatoes in it. You definitely want it that way.
6. Enjoy with the following:

For the Meatloaf

      1/2lb ground beef

 

      1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

 

      2T red onion, finely chopped

 

      1 1/2T BBQ Sauce + 1t

 

      2T bread crumbs

 

      1 egg

 

      2 strips quality bacon

 

      Good amount of sea salt and cracked black pepper

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350.
2. Put all ingredients (saving the extra teaspoon of BBq sauce) together in a bowl and mix well by hand.
3. Here’s the key to making it right:

        Coat a small loaf pan in butter and pack the uncooked meatloaf into it, smoothing out the flat side, then gently shake it out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Once out, the loaf is now coated in the butter. Now, coat it in BBQ sauce and lay the bacon strips gently over it.

4. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, remove and rise oven temp to 450.
5. Once heated, replace meatloaf for 10 minutes to brown the outside.
6. Remove bacon strips and serve on the side.
7. Serve with:

And the Mushroom Gravy

      2C. mixed mushrooms, coarsely chopped

 

      1/4C. butter + 1t

 

      1/2 small white onion, finely chopped

 

      1C. heavy cream

 

      1/2C. stock (veggie, chicken or beef)

 

      1T flour

 

      1/2 small garlic clove, finely minced

 

      1/2T balsamic vinegar

 

      Salt and Pepper

1. In a medium sauce pan, saute mushrooms, onion and garlic in 1t butter until just a little softened
2. Add stock and cream
3. In small amounts, add flour, whisking the whole time to make sure it doesn’t clump up (I like to add the flour later for this, because I don’t want it to brown)
4. Continue whisking!!! and add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Continue whisking until it is nice and thick and delicious
6. Remove from direct heat, but keep stirring it up until you serve it – otherwise it will thicken into a lumpy mistake.

Now, put ’em all together with some mashed potatoes (you’re on your own, here) and serve it in this order: Mashed potatoes on the bottom, then the meatloaf, maybe a little extra BBQ sauce, then the gravy. MMMMMMmmmmmmm Mama.

A Few of My Favorite Things

In effort to introduce myself, my kitchen and my blog, I offer to you a short list of my favorite tools, equipment, indulgences and pantry staples:

1. Salt: The best, standard rule of thumb is never, ever EVER cook anything without salt. Since you should always abide by this, you should also have a strong supply of various gourmet and finishing salts on hand in addition to cooking salts (they’re fun to discover and collect, too!). Some of my favorites include Fume de Sel (a grey salt smoked over Chardonnay Oak), Kala Namak ( aka “Black Salt”; a strongly sulfuric salt from India and my absolute favorite), Bolivian Rose (a slightly sulfuric pink salt, quarried from a dried lake bed in the Andes), and of course the standard Fleur de Sel.

2. Individually sized foods: Individually sized entrees, sides, or desserts are like
tapas in your own home. They encourage people to participate in the greatest
aspect of food: a time to share, talk and interact with each other They’re also a
convenient way to test out multiple recipe variations all at once – just remember to label which is which.
(see #3 and Bacon Mashed Potatoes Pie)

3. My Round 4” Non-stick Baking Dishes and/or 4″ Round Custard Ramekins: Perfect for individually sized anything. (see #2)

4. Truffles: Yes, I know that this is everyone’s favorite, but it can’t be overlooked. Truffle oil, truffle salt, truffle cheese (see below).

5. Al Tartufo StagionatoTruffle Cheese: Since I restrained myself from listing 25 different salts as my favorite things, I deserve two for truffles. This one in particular is a dream come true. A sheep’s milk version of the original Al Tartufo, its harder and dryer. I’ve heard complaints that it doesn’t melt as well as the original cow and sheep blend, but I ignore this because I don’t care to know or understand any kind of lunatic that would manipulate the make up of such a perfect creation by melting it. (I even once saw a recipe for a truffle cheese grilled cheese. Idiots.)

6. Stuffed Foods: Stuffed foods are a really fun way to experiment with the
creativity that goes along with good cooking. It’s also a good way to practice and test your ability to pair tastes and textures with one another. They also are usually easy to make pretty, and make you look like you know what you’re doing, even if you barely do. Some of my favorites: Duck breast stuffed with baked goat cheese (I actually turned a vegetarian with this dish); Pork chops stuffed with brie and pancetta, Roasted bell peppers stuffed with chipotle roasted lime couscous.

7. Liver: The only thing I could imagine being more delicious than truffles, or having a better richness in both flavor and texture than liver could possibly be liver confit in duck fat with truffle oil. Oh, mama.

8. Cameron’s 11″x15″ Stovetop Smoker: I first discovered this while cooking in a restaurant in San Francisco, where we used it for the house smoked bacon. It’s small, but perfect. Tomatillos, heirloom tomatoes (reserve the juice to make a mind-blowing tomato sauce), eggplant, and tofu are only a few in the long list of items that, when smoked, are a tasty way to move vegetarian or vegan dishes from the sides menu to the entrée menu. I also suggest experimenting with pizza toppings.

9. Duck fat: While that truth remains that I was vegan for 12-or-so years, things have changed and I am now a very strong advocate of always having duck fat on hand. A
pound or two goes a long way – makes you look impressively creative in the
kitchen, and isn’t excessively expensive. It’s a simple way to add
richness to anything when you’re happy to indulge in a dish that is well worth
turning a blind eye to saturated fat and calories. And let-me-tell-you …. Some stuffed pork chops browned in duck fat ….. well, I think you get my point. Duck fat is easy to obtain from your local butcher. Even a grocery
store butcher would probably be able to order it (ask ahead), though I strongly (very strongly) suggest going to a butcher, not your grocery store. The quality is incomparable.


This list will surely grow, but for now, for your peace of mind. don’t worry, the dishes mentioned here will all have recipes posted shortly. Take the time between then and now to pick up a few of these items. Especially the duck fat.